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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: Now, at point guard, Will Barton

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NBA: Denver Nuggets at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

Entering the 2020-21 season, the Denver Nuggets had a deep guard rotation. They featured Jamal Murray and Gary Harris along with R.J. Hampton, P.J. Dozier, Facundo Campazzo, Monte Morris and even Markus Howard, who was on a two-way contract. All of those players, with the exception of Howard, who is still relatively young, could provide reliable guard minutes. Now, after injuries and trades, the team features just Dozier, Campazzo, Morris and Howard. With the revolving door there, maybe the answer at point guard isn’t listed as a guard, and that is none other than Will Barton.

At 6’6” and 181 pounds, Barton is built like a tall guard, and he has played much of the season at the shooting guard spot. With the forward rotation this team can trot out with guys like Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon along with a guard like Dozier who functions best in a slashing role off the ball, and Nikola Jokic at center, this team can still put out a pretty strong starting lineup with Barton at point guard.

Barton has the ball-handling and shooting capability that you’re losing with Murray being out for the remainder of the year. While he’s not a perfect replacement for either of those skills, he is capable, and that also keeps Morris and Campazzo on the bench to provide ball-handling for the second unit which lacks creation when those two are off the floor. Let’s explore this fit a little bit more.

Get to the cup

Being able to drive and get to the rim makes life a lot easier on your offense. It collapses the defense, and it can open up space for your shooters. With Murray gone, the team will miss that type of player a lot, but Barton can help offset those losses with plays like this. The team is in transition, and he could try to lob the ball down the floor for Porter. Instead, he sets up the defense and drives towards the basket which forces the defense to abandon Porter and focus on him. That gives Barton the easy dump-off and dunk for Porter.

Barton set up the previous play a few minutes earlier with this one here. Four members of the defense move in his direction to try and contest the shot, but none are able to do so as he gets there for the easy layup at the front of the rim. Barton isn’t the same level of ball-handler as Murray, but he’s a smooth operator in traffic, and taking on a role as a primary ball-handler can allow the offense to go through fewer changes.

Show off the vision

Jokic is going to be the primary passer for this team. He’s the primary initiator and who the offense runs through, but it’s important to have another player that can set up his teammates. Barton can do just that. On this play, he sets up the defense by making them account for a drive in transition. Once he grabs their attention, he waits for Porter to cut behind the defense for the easy dunk at the rim off the lob.

With Murray out, someone needs to step up and fill in with the two-man game that he and Jokic frequently ran en route to their +11.5 net rating. Jokic and Barton operate decently well, especially out near the 3-point line. On this play, it’s just a simple pick-and-pop play. Barton uses the screen to generate separation and take two defenders with him. Once he sees the space for Jokic, he feeds him for the wide-open 3-point bucket.

Help the bench

By starting Barton at the point guard spot, you free up Campazzo and Morris to orchestrate and score for the second unit. The unit lacks any true individual creators without one of those two on the floor, and they don’t have the ability to just get a shot when they need to. Campazzo passing out to Morris seems like such a small play that doesn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things, but it matters a ton when you factor in the other guards off the bench are likely driving to the cup and forcing up a shot. Campazzo doesn’t do that.

Morris was the presumptive starting option when Murray went down, but, with the way the bench is struggling to produce, they need Morris there to steer the car. On this play, Morris is working off with Zeke Nnaji. Nnaji sets a screen to create some space for Morris and floats to his spot to wait for the ball to find him. He’s not going to create his own shot, as evidenced by the fact only 12 of his 96 points on field goals have been unassisted buckets. Morris’ ability to create for himself and others is needed more than his skills are needed with the starters.

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.